The seven medals on her chest jingled as Cadet Col. Tami Tooke marched her drill team across the gymnasium.
“Everybody calls me a wind chime,” said Tooke, 18, the unit commander of Medical Lake High School’s Air Force Junior ROTC.
The unit, 82 cadets strong, held its annual Pass in Review on Thursday. The group is one of only two Junior ROTCs in Eastern Washington.
Dignitaries from Fairchild Air Force Base helped bestow dozens of medals and awards, then watched the unit march by the bleachers, eyes right, to the strains of John Philip Sousa’s “The Thunderer.”
Then, with Tooke barking commands, the drill team performed. Tooke developed The Voice, she said, over four years in Junior ROTC.
“It’s the voice you’d use if you wanted to stop a child from stepping off the curb into the street.”
She should know. Tooke, a high school senior, is the mother of an 18-month-old daughter.
No one suggested she hang up her blue Air Force uniform when she got pregnant. Instead, the other cadets made bets on when the baby would be born. One of the ROTC teachers brought her homework to her after the birth.
“There really are no restrictions on kids. If I can get a uniform around them, they can join,” said Senior Master Sgt. John Foresman, one of the teachers.
Junior ROTC can be a lifeline to students feeling lost in high school, Foresman said.
“You have your athletes and your scholars. They tend to be taken care of,” Foresman said. “For others who are wavering, this program really provides help and direction.”
Foresman and Lt. Col. Paul Means, both retired military men, teach the ROTC classes at the high school. Half their salaries are paid by the military, the other half by the school district.
Cadets take one class a year from them. Freshmen get a world history credit. Sophomores and juniors study the science of flight. Seniors get a social science credit as they move into leadership roles.
Every Thursday the cadets must wear their uniforms to school. There’s no getting out of it. If they forget, they make it up by wearing the uniform another day.
So on Thursdays, shiny, black leather shoes replace sneakers and ties bind necks.
Other students call them Blueberries or Smurfs. The cadets learn to ignore it.
There’s strength in numbers.
“We have a phrase, ‘You mess with one, you mess with them all,”’ said Cadet 1st Lt. Brandi Waters.
Cadet 2nd Lt. Tony Gauna tells freshmen cadets the non-ROTC students are just jealous. They don’t get to fly in Huey helicopters and Air National Guard KC-135s like the Junior ROTC members do.
This weekend, about half the unit will study with Air Force Survival School instructors at the school’s training area near Cusick, Wash.
Other benefits include an edge on ROTC scholarships and higher pay for those who enter the military.
Military life is familiar to most students at the high school. About half the 500 students, and about half the cadets, are military dependents with parents stationed at Fairchild.
The unit had to get special permission from the Medical Lake School Board to use non-working rifles for a new armed drill team. By state law, firearms are prohibited on school grounds.
“Cheerleaders have pompons. We like sticks that look like this,” Foresman said, patting a rifle on a desk in his office. Cadets swarmed in and out, munching on bags of chips and joking with each other.
This year, “the outfit’s run by women,” Foresman said. Besides Tooke, the two squadron commanders and one of the flight commanders are girls.
“In high school the guys are looking to get the girl, and the girls are looking to get the position,” Tooke said.
Girls also took the two most coveted awards Thursday. Cadet Major Mandy Ewing won the Air Force Association Award and Cadet Major Christina Craig won the Daedalian Award.
Tooke, who plans a career in law enforcement, picked up three awards herself. Junior ROTC taught her to jump over roadblocks in her life, she said.
“I’m proud of my wind chimes.”